The University of Minnesota Duluth is up slightly in summer enrollment compared to where its numbers stood this time last year, while fall enrollment numbers for first-year students are down.

During a University of Minnesota Board of Regents meeting Thursday, Vice Provost and Dean of Undergraduate Education Robert McMaster went over how U of M System enrollment numbers are looking during the COVID-19 pandemic.

"There's going to be a drop," McMaster said. "I think that's inevitable. I think that's going to happen with every university in the country."

As students grapple with whether to continue their educations as planned this fall due to COVID-19, many colleges and universities are keeping tabs on how enrollment numbers change on a week-by-week basis.

As of May 1, UMD had 268 fewer confirmed first-year students for the upcoming fall semester than the university had confirmed that time last year. That's a 12% decline.

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UMD spokesperson Lynne Williams said the campus will have a more accurate picture of what fall enrollment will look like after June 1, as that's the university's internal target date for securing a strong idea of prospective students' intent to enroll.

"It is still a little early to predict, especially in a year like this," Williams said.

UMD's final application deadline for the fall semester is August 1 and the deadline to apply for housing has been moved from May 1 to June 1, though it's not yet clear if or in what capacity the U of M System will be able to open up campus housing again.

Knowing how many people apply for campus housing after the June 1 deadline will also give UMD a better idea of what fall enrollment could look like.

"If you sign a housing contract you're making that next-step commitment," Williams said.

Across the entire U of M System, the freshman class is down 9% and while McMaster said he doesn't expect the system to make that all up, he does anticipate being able to shave that number to about a 4% decrease.

Retention rates for returning students are currently down only 1.2% across the system, according to May 4 numbers from 2019 and 2020.

"Although it's fragile," McMaster said. "These are students who have registered for the fall, but if things continue to deteriorate financially over the summer, or a parent loses a job, I think we're going to be in rough shape."

Which is why, McMaster said, it's going to be important to triple efforts around securing more emergency funds for students in order to minimize the number of committed students who will not attend in the fall. It's a phenomenon known as "summer melt" in higher education and the system is anticipating that number to be higher than usual this year due to COVID-19.

As of May 4, students at UMD have registered for 151 more student credit hours than they did that time last year. That's an increase of 1.3%.

McMaster said the increases in summer enrollment are likely due in part to a lack of employment opportunities for students this upcoming summer.

In April, U of M President Joan Gabel announced that summer classes would all take place online, which had little effect on the UMD campus where the majority of summer classes were already online.

UMD is seeing higher interest from transfer students, which Williams said are typically local students.

All of UMD's new student orientation programs have been moved online.